Regular readers will know that I’m not a huge optimist when it comes to the potential for an effective British political blogosphere. The market is still too small to approximate anything like what has emerged in the United States over the last few years, and the political and media culture doesn’t lend itself toward anything like the U.S. blogosphere.
Eamonn Butler at the Adam Smith Institute’s blog is more optimistic and is perplexed by the Sunday Herald’s assumption that an election spike in the audience of the British blogosphere “s certain to be far lower than in the US”
Perhaps the *Herald *allowed itself this dubius assumption because the United States blogosphere draws its readership from a population of around 300 million people with 60-odd per cent Internet access whereas the British blogosphere’s potential readership is drawn from a from population of around 60 million with 52 per cent Internet access.
Perhaps it’s because there are nearly 1,292,816 LiveJournal users in the United States, compared with 71,742 in Britain (It’s the best blogosphere proxy I could find).
Or perhaps because the outcome of a UK election has much less global impact than an American one and is therefore less likely to draw in a significant global audience.
No matter what, the Herald’s admittedly evidence-free assumption is fairly solid as educated guesses go.
Butler is also optimistic about the efficacy of the British blogosphere:
… the BBC and other media — not to mention the politicians — can be assured that if they promote or fall for some Rather-like scam in Britain, they will find out just how important British bogging really is — and will be shredded just as nicely, no doubt.
I’m not sure about that one, either. A Rathergate-like swarm requires a large, highly-energised partisan blogosphere with a specifically anti-media ideology, which simply doesn’t exist in Britain to the extent that it does in the United States.
I’m more inclined to support the sceptical line about the significance of new media in this campaign taken by Sri Carmichael in the Observer on Sunday:
True, the internet mobilised grassroot voters in last year’s US presidential election. Sites such as the anti-Bush MoveOn.org definitely played a part in that campaign, not least by helping raise cash for the candidates’ campaigns. But they owed their success to the fact that almost 80 per cent of homes in the US have access to the internet.
In the UK, the figure is barely 50 per cent. Tomorrow the Institute of Public Policy Research and Oxford Internet Institute will publish figures showing only 43 per cent of people who earn less than £25,000 a year have an internet connection at home — around half the number who earn over £37,500.
Tony Blair should be aware of this digital divide. The Government’s IT strategy, announced last month, painted a stark picture of the gap between internet haves and have-nots that shows no sign of closing. The rate of connection among the poorest households has been stuck at 20 per cent since 2001.
The heartfelt welcome extended to the blogging community’s entrance on to the electoral stage is in fact a cheer for a very small group of cybergeeks who appeal to politicians and journalists because they give the illusion of being able to connect with the ‘ordinary voter’. But many of the people who most deserve the attention of politicians aren’t online. The revolution doesn’t start here.
I’m not sure that 80 per cent U.S. residential Internet penetration is factual, but the idea is correct.